The Salmon Kill, locally referred to as Salmon Creek, is a picturesque stream in northwest Connecticut that flows from its headwaters of Mount Riga to the Housatonic River. The forested headwater streams of the Salmon Creek contain cold, clean water due to the undeveloped condition of the upper watershed, providing habitat for native brook trout. Public fishing access areas in the headwaters is managed as part of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment (CT DEEP) Wild Trout Management Areas.
As the creek flows towards the Housatonic through the quaint town of Salisbury, Connecticut, the presence of brook trout is less evident and stream conditions change. In places, the channel has steep and eroding banks. Elsewhere, the channel is wide and shallow with little pool and riffle habitat, resulting in elevated stream temperature and limited suitable in-stream trout habitat. Temperature data collected by TU shows prolonged elevated stream temperatures as early as June.
Land use in the Salmon Kill Valley has contributed to the degradation of the creek and the loss of critical trout habitat. Historically, the cold water of the Salmon Kill would have helped to cool the iconic Housatonic River, providing a respite to trout that hover near cold tributaries during the depth of summer.
Salmon Creek was identified as a priority and will continue TU’s concentrated efforts to preserve and restore critical brook trout habitat and populations in the northeast, a stronghold for our native trout. Ultimately, by increasing spawning opportunities and improving water temperatures in this important tributary, we hope to improve fishing on the Housatonic River, a popular fishing destination in the east.
With a grant from the General Electric Natural Resource Damages fund by the Connecticut Council of Trustees, TU has designed the Salmon Creek Enhancement and Restoration Project to enhance existing habitat through installation of large wood structures.
Larger log jam structures are designed and placed in areas where little deep pool habitat exist. In addition to providing cover and deep pool habitat for a variety of age classes, narrowing the channel with these structures will help improve substrate sorting to improve spawning while reconnecting the channel and floodplain for improved river function.
Additional structures are focused on bank stability which will help improve water quality. Streamside plantings are planned for areas where little vegetation currently exists and will to help stabilize banks, decrease thermal loading, improve water quality, while providing organic material to the creek.
Our process-based restoration strategy will focus on the habitat requirements of native and wild trout and the physical, chemical and biological processes that sustain river ecosystems in order to support a diversity of both terrestrial and aquatic species.
Part of our strategy is to engage local students in our restoration efforts. Along with our partners, Housatonic Valley Association and the University of Connecticut’s Natural Resource Conservation Academy, TU is working to engage local students in place-based learning activities. Our restoration work is a great way to get the students outside learning about their watershed. Through hands-on activities, students participate in water quality monitoring and planting activities.
Data collected by the students will serve as a baseline for the restoration work helping us to evaluate the effectiveness of our work. The goal is to incorporate these activities into the school curriculum to ensure long term monitoring. At the same time, the students are developing a sense of stewardship and respect for the natural world in a very meaningful way that they simply wouldn’t get in the classroom.
Place-based learning helps students connect with their local natural resources, a concept that is the center of TU’s Headwaters Youth Program. How better to protect critical resource, such as the native brook trout, than to provide the opportunities for students to explore and become intimately familiar and connected to their local watershed? By engaging students, the landownership and the community in our work, we hope to promote a sustainable future for trout in the watershed.
In May 2015 2nd, 3rdand 4thgraders from Sharon Center School, a local elementary school, helped plant 150 plants along Salmon Creek. The students learned about the importance of the “riparian” area, went searching for wildlife tracks and helped install native shrubs and trees along the steep and eroding banks. High School students from Housatonic Regional High School, Salisbury Boys School and Hotchkiss School also helped out with the planting effort.
In late July 2015 Riverlogic Solutions, Inc. began construction at the first priority site located on Whippoorwill Farm. This site was chosen based on the ecological needs of the site and ease of accessibility. The banks were steep and eroding with no riparian vegetation. The deeper pool was choked with fine sediment and little instream cover or habitat diversity existed on the site. The Riverlogic team pounded and installed over 200 small to very large logs with rootwads. The structures were designed to stabilize the banks while providing an incredible amount of in-stream cover and hiding places for fish of all ages. One of the treatments used involved the ramming of tree trunks into both banks leaving the rootwad protruding into the creek flow. The idea of this “thermal pool treatment” is to restrict flow and help the creek self-scour a deep pool. A thermal pool is considered deeper than 4 fee and closer to 6 feet. This depth will allow for water stratification and provide thermal refuge for trout and other coldwater species during the hot summer months when the water temperatures have shown to increase to beyond the lethal limit for trout.
CT DEEP again sampled the first site to be enhanced and netted four 6” brook trout. Over the last three years the CT DEEP fisheries crew have donated their time sampling the restoration sites identified by TU. With a large crowd of high school students on the banks observing the sampling, the CT DEEP fisheries crew explained that brook trout had not been captured during in of their previous sampling efforts on the locations destined for restoration. There were cheers from the students as they all eagerly gathered around to see the native brook trout that live in their homewaters.
Two other sites were completed during the 2015 field season using over 400 logs in the process. Following the installation of the large wood treatments, the sites were planted by local students. Seven additional sites are scheduled for the 2016 construction season.